My 10 favourite Bond songs

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After a lengthy consideration (on the tube this morning), here is my list of the 10 best bits of music recorded for the James Bond film series… Let me know if I’ve missed out your favourite.

  1. White Knight (David Arnold, Tomorrow Never Dies). The only incidental cue in the list, but I can’t do this blog and not mention the music from the pre-title sequence in Tomorrow Never Dies. David Arnold’s score for the whole film is one of my favourites, partly because it used then-revolutionary electronica sounds. This action cue is more on the trad side, but is as fresh, dynamic and thrilling as they come. Check it out here.
  1. The James Bond Theme (John Barry, Dr No). It’s overused in the film – but, Christ on a bike, it’s an exhilarating piece of music. Terrific guitar sound; pounding drums.
  1. Nobody Does It Better (Carly Simon, The Spy Who Loved Me). Lovely, lyrical piano melody.
  1. Tomorrow Never Dies (Sheryl Crow, Tomorrow Never Dies). Dramatic opening, nice lyrics.
  1. The World is Not Enough (Garbage, The World is Not Enough). A deliberately big, bombastic power ballad.
  1. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (John Barry, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service). The film’s title sequence is scored by this killer tune, which uses synths to create a pulsing hook.
  1. The Living Daylights (a-ha, The Living Daylights). An 80s-tastic syth classic: mean, moody and magnificent.
  1. A View to a Kill (Duran Duran, A View to a Kill). Another sensational slice of 1980s pop. The video’s cheesy as fuck, though.
  1. Live and Let Die (Paul McCartney & Wings, Live and Let Die). Possibly Macca’s best post-Beatles song. A dapper and dangerous track.
  1. We Have All The Time in the World (Louis Armstrong, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service). Just *gorgeous*. The film’s love theme, and a song so good that many people don’t know it’s from a Bond movie.
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My 10 favourite Bond girls

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After a lengthy consideration (on the tube this morning) and much research (ie, looking up the spellings), here is my list of the 10 best female characters in the James Bond film series… Let me know if I’ve missed out your favourite.

  1. Dink (Margaret Nolan, Goldfinger). She’s only in the movie for about 20 seconds. And she gets a patronising slap on the bum from 007. But she’s just so pretty.
  1. Séverine (Bérénice Lim Marlohe, Skyfall). Again, not in the film a great amount – just a segment about halfway through. But she’s beautiful, looks stunning in an evening gown, and has a terrific scene with Bond where she’s clearly scared but doing a good job of hiding it.
  1. Miranda Frost (Rosamund Pike, Die Another Day). As her surname suggests, she’s icy cool. She also gets a spoiler-tastic subplot.
  1. Pussy Galore (Honor Blackman, Goldfinger). The first great Bond girl – though the fact she’s patently a ‘woman’ is what makes her so sexy.
  1. Melina Havelock (Carole Bouquet, For Your Eyes Only). A quietly brilliant character who’s out for revenge. One of the few Bond girls with whom 007 makes an emotional connection.
  1. Tiffany Case (Jill St John, Diamonds Are Forever). A sassy, brassy, wisecracking gal with bags of energy and charm.
  1. Natalya Simonova (Izabella Scorupco, GoldenEye). One of the best ‘real’ characters in the series: a Bond girl who’s tough and resourceful, but not a super-spy so gets scared and anxious too.
  1. Vesper Lynd (Eva Green, Casino Royale). One of Bond’s true loves, she sashays into his life and steals his heart. It’s easy to see why, especially when she’s dolled up for the card game.
  1. Tracy di Vicenzo (Diana Rigg, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service). Played by the best actress ever cast as a Bond girl, Tracy is an enigma. We first see her trying to kill herself, and at first she doesn’t respond well to Bond – but the film then gives us a genuine love story.
  1. Pam Bouvier (Carey Lowell, Licence to Kill). I’ve been in love with Pam for, ooh, about 25 years now. Not only is she a smart, sophisticated and sexy woman, but she plays a vital part in the series’s best ever plot.

(Oh, and an honourable mention for the Judi Dench version of M, who was absolutely terrific. She kinda fulfills the Bond-girl role in the plot of Skyfall.)

Dracula Reborn (2015, Attila Luca)

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An occasional series where I write about works inspired by Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula…

These reviews reveal plot twists.

Setting: The modern day. After a brief sequence in Vancouver, the ‘action’ switches to Paris, then Cluj-Napoca in Romania and the Carpathian Mountains.

Faithful to the novel? Not especially. The world-famous Drakula [sic] cult has been around for a very long time, and is now being blamed for numerous missing-person cases. A disgraced, vampire-obsessed journalist called Hannah (Tina Balthazar) decides to investigate, so travels to Paris and assembles a small team of helpers. Meanwhile, a bald vampire stalks them and starts to kill them. When it comes to finding Dracula’s original castle, the team research in a library and read up on Vlad the Impaler; then a bizarre plot twist leads them to online snuff movies. (Around now, I stopped trying to keep up with what was happening.)

Best performance: Michael Maricondi is relatively watchable as the nerdy Nate. But that’s not saying much.

Best bit: The incidental music’s not too shabby.

Review: Not to be confused with the 2012 film of the same name, this was originally called Dracula XO before a rebranding for the UK DVD release. It is a diabolically dreadful waste of time. I’ve never seen The Room – the 2003 film that’s been called the Citizen Kane of bad movies – but surely this can’t be far off matching its awfulness. The cast are bad enough: a thoroughly rotten collection of actors who can barely speak let alone act. (Most clearly don’t have English as their first language, and sadly put all the emPHAsis on the wrong syllABLE.) But the storytelling – vague, obscure, perfunctory – is even worse. It’s slow, confused and amateurish.

One news report out of 10

Ten Things I Love About… Back to the Future Part III (1990, Robert Zemeckis)

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Plot spoilers ahead. In fact, I’m assuming you know the film’s basic story.

This is not a review. (Want a review? ‘Perfect – 10 Shonash Ravines out of 10’.) Instead, here’s a list of 10 areas in which I think Back to the Future Part III especially excels. I’ll avoid covering things discussed in the previous two blogs.

1. “10.04pm next Saturday night!”
The scene of the lightning bolt striking the Hill Valley clock tower in 1955 and sending Marty back to his own time is seen again – therefore, uniquely, it appears in all three movies.

2. “It’s Howdy Doody time!”
The 1950s sequence at the start of the film is wonderful. Set at Doc’s house, an abandoned mine, a graveyard, a library and a gaudy drive-in cinema, it has dark, solemn feel about it. It’s raining as the action begins, because it’s still the same night as the thunderstorm from film one. In the scene in Doc’s house, Christopher Lloyd and Michael J Fox are on fire – their rat-a-tat-tat delivery of the lines is a joy. It’s also so refreshing to see a movie scene between two actors played out in long takes – one shot is 49 seconds, another is 54, another 46. The camera moves discreetly so the point of the drama is always in focus; the editing speeds up if needed, but mostly lets Lloyd and Fox do their thing. There are lots of fun details in the scene too. The fact Marty still has the hoverboard is smuggled in via a bit of slapstick, and the events of the last film are neatly recapped in dialogue. Because it’s the same week of the events of the first movie, Doc’s scale model of Hill Valley is still in place, and Marty fiddles with the Doc’s mind-reading helmet. After the action moves to the mines, Jules Verne is casually mentioned (seeding information for later in the story) while the Doc idly wonders if his life in 1885 will be in the town archives (minutes later, he has to go and have a look).

3. “Clint Eastwood never wore anything like this.”
When he prepares to time-travel to the nineteenth century, Marty dresses in a ridiculous, garish cowboy costume. When he gets to 1885, he needs a pseudonym so picks Western icon Clint Eastwood (who he’d seen briefly on a TV in Part II). This is all part of the movie’s have-your-cake-and-eat-it approach to the Wild West. It wants to use the real history as a setting, but is more interested in clichés and conventions. The list of stereotypes being plundered for drama and comedy is seemingly endless: Indians and the US Cavalry; cowboys and campfires; duels and dung; horses and hangings; saloons, stagecoaches, shindigs, sheriffs, six-shooters, sipping whiskeys, standoffs and steam trains.

4. “How could you forget a thing like your hat?!”
Soon after arriving in 1885, Marty meets his immigrant ancestors – great-great-grandfather Seamus, great-great-grandmother Maggie and baby William. There are plenty of *very* impressive split-screens to allow Michael J Fox to play both Marty and Seamus in the same shot. Meanwhile, having Lea Thompson play Maggie is a strange decision – partly because of the incestuous implications now inherent in Marty’s family tree, but also because her Irish accent is not the greatest. But it’s a welcome move, because otherwise she wouldn’t be in the film very much.

5. “As mayor of Hill Valley, it gives me great pleasure to dedicate this clock to the people of Hill County!”
The Hill Valley set is another sublime bit of production design, though ‘bit’ is a laughably inadequate word for such an endeavour. Unlike in films one or two where the basic set could be refitted for four different time zones, the Wild West needed a whole new town built. It has the recognisable skeleton of the square we know so well, and the saloon is deliberately in the same location as the 1955 and 2015 cafés. A sign hanging over the street announces that the townsfolk are raising money for their new clocktower – which we then see under construction. Doc and Marty actually attend the clock’s unveiling ceremony. As the Doc says, it’s apt: they were there at the end of its working life too.

6. “It’s a science experiment!”
Doc Brown’s existence in 1885 – he’s been there several months by the time Marty shows up – has a delightful steampunk vibe about it. His workshop has a steam-powered contraption to create ice cubes; he’s built a long-range rifle; and the connection he makes with schoolteacher Clara (Mary Steenburgen) is based on their mutual love of science. I think it’s residual goodwill from this film that makes me so predisposed to enjoy sci-fi Westerns or ones with some kind of modern twist – both the good ones (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, 2010’s True Grit, 2013’s The Lone Ranger) and the clearly awful ones (Wild Wild West, Cowboys & Aliens, Jonah Hex).

7. “Hey, Frisbee! Far out!”
As ever with a Back to the Future film, each viewing brings new details to light. This time, one example was in the scene where Doc and Marty question the train driver about how fast his engine can go. In the background, you can see the town clock being unloaded from a carriage – another instance of the series’s thematic connection to that timepiece. In terms of a whopping great big plot hole, something I didn’t spot for years and years is that Doc and Marty need to steal a train in order to get the DeLorean up to 88mph because they don’t have any petrol… and yet, they never once consider using the fuel from the DeLorean the Doc has recently stashed in a nearby mine.

8. “I adore Jules Verne!”
The third film gives us a simple yet highly effective love story, and also allows the Doc time to shine. The sweet subplot is very well played by Lloyd and Steenburgen, and it gives the middle of the film a reasonably leisurely feel (certainly in comparison to the sugar-rush storytelling of Part II). It’s a nice change of pace. And Clara isn’t a bolted-on complication; she plays a vital role in the plot. In the second half, thinking the Doc has lied to her, she gets on a train to leave Hill Valley. However, she then changes her mind and stops the train – which is handy as it’s the very train that Marty, who’s running late, needs to get back home.

9. “It erased…”
The stuff back in 1985 is fantastic – especially the Doc’s surprise appearance in a flying steam-train time-machine. (Everyone’s spotted how his son Verne points at his cock in the background of a shot, right?)

10. “Everything concerns the law!”
I first saw this film illegally before its UK release. A family I was friends with had somehow got hold of a pirated VHS. To protect their anonymity, I won’t say who they were – let’s just call them the Cowing family of 169 Burscough Street, Ormskirk. So I saw Back to the Future Part III on video before it was available in the cinemas. It was a black-and-white copy, sadly, though that was kind of appropriate for a Western. (It was a special year for seeing films early. That summer, I was on holiday in Spain and one afternoon a local bar showed an illegal copy of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, which hadn’t been released in the UK yet, for all the holidaying British kids.)

Ten Things I Love About… Back to the Future Part II (1989, Robert Zemeckis)

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Plot spoilers ahead. In fact, I’m assuming you know the film’s basic story.

This is not a review. (Want a review? ‘Perfect – 10 screen doors on a battleship out of 10’.) Instead, here’s a list of 10 areas in which I think Back to the Future Part II especially excels. I won’t mention the direction, the music, the production design, the dialogue and the main cast (Michael J Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson and Thomas F Wilson) because they were discussed in the previous blog post. But they’re all just as sensational in this film.

1. New Jennifer.
The opening scene is a reprise of the final few minutes from the original movie. However, the footage had to be reshot because Claudia Wells had dropped out of playing Jennifer for personal reasons. I was already a fan of the new actress, Elisabeth Shue, from The Karate Kid and Adventures in Babysitting. She’s a big improvement on Wells: she gets more to do, and is also a better comic actress. (I’ve only this week learnt that there was a *third* Jennifer. Originally cast in the role in 1984 was Melora Hardin, who was later in the US version of The Office. She filmed a few scenes with Eric Stoltz, the original Marty. However, when Stoltz was fired and replaced with Michael J Fox, Hardin was deemed too tall to play opposite Fox so was let go.)

2. “Whoa, this is heavy!”
This film’s plot is dizzyingly complex and all the better for it. The mechanics of who does what, when they do it, what that means, and what it leads to are very complicated but (almost entirely) make perfect sense. The writers even use something they considered a mistake – putting Jennifer in the car at the end of the first film – to their benefit. When the cops in the future find time-travelling Jennifer, they naturally deduce that she’s the Jennifer from 2015 so take her home. We then get a very entertaining sequence at Marty’s future house, which is full of fun gags and character details, *and* provides Biff with the opportunity to steal the DeLorean. The whole script has this kind of plotting panache.

3. “Please, Marty – no one should know too much about their own destiny.”
The DeLorean arrives in the future at 4.29pm on 21 October 2015. Doc even specifies that it’s a Wednesday. I first saw this film at a cinema in Southport in December 1989. It was my cousin’s birthday, so he, some of his pals and I went together. I was only 10, but crucially a year or so older than everyone else. So I felt enormously smug when, after the movie, they all complained that it made no sense and I was able to spell out what had happened. I also remember calculating that I’d be 36 years old in October 2015. That seemed a laughably long time away. It was, I suppose.

4. Future proof.
The twenty-first century on show here has flying cars, self-tying shoes, and Jaws 19 playing at the cinema (tagline: “This time, it’s really, really personal!”). The filmmakers knew they had no hope of accurately predicting 26 years into the future, so they chose to play it for laughs. The main dialogue scene, for example, takes place in the Café 80s – a horrid, pastel, plastic retro joint with AI waiters in the form of Ronald Reagan and Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. In presenting a future society, the film got a lot of things wide off the mark (Marty Jnr uses a payphone) but some things bang on the money. Check out how Marty Jnr watches six TV feeds all at once, and how he and Marty’s daughter are both obsessed by their Google Glasses while at the dinner table. Behaviourally speaking, they’re kids using social media. (The sight of Michael J Fox playing Marlene McFly, however, is just horrific.) When he arrives in the future, Marty buys a sports almanac from a vintage-goods shop. It’s said to list all major sporting results from 1950 to 2000, including American football, baseball, horse racing and boxing. In 1955, Biff verifies its accuracy by looking up the score of a routine college-football game. Even if we assume it’s only *American* sports, it still seems a very thin book for all that information! (By the way, I’ve looked it up: some if not all of the football scores we hear on Biff’s car radio are from genuine games that took place on 12 November 1955. And UCLA did really beat Washington with a last-minute field goal.)

5. “Manure! I hate manure!”
As with the first film, there are loads of gags only noticeable on repeated viewings. An electronic billboard in 2015 advertises Major Goldie Wilson III’s election campaign. An edition of USA Today we see in the future has jokey headlines such as ‘Washington prepares for Queen Diana’s visit!’ and ‘President says she’s tired’. Some subtle gags are, in effect, in the wrong order. We’ve already seen Lorraine married to a wealthy Biff in the alternative 1985 when, in 1955, she tells him that she wouldn’t marry him “even if [he] had a million dollars!” There are also quite a few forward references to the third film, which was shot back-to-back with this one. Marty plays a Western shoot-’em-up arcade machine in 2015 (a young Elijah Wood is one of the kids in the scene); the Doc laments that he’s never visited the Old West and says he wants to learn more about women; we find out that Biff’s great-grandfather was a Wild West outlaw; and Biff is seen watching A Fistful of Dollars. (One little detail I spotted on this viewing that I’ve never realised before: the old codger in 2015 who gives Marty the idea to go back in time and make money via betting is also in the 1955 stuff. He’s the mechanic charging Biff $300 for the repairs to his car.)

6. “I’m old!”/”I’m young!”
For 1989, the special effects are tremendous. There are numerous split-screen shots where the same actor plays two (or even three) roles at the same time. The characters interact believably and the camera often *moves*, which was just revolutionary for the time. The two Jennifers seeing each other and both fainting might be my favourite example, but there are plenty to choose from. There’s also some smart animation used for the flying cars in 2015. Stylistically it’s reminiscent of Who Framed Roger Rabbit, the movie Robert Zemeckis made immediately before this.

7. History repeating itself.
The same type of events keep happening, but in interestingly different contexts. This kind of story rhyming is not unique to the Back to the Future films – The Godfather and Star Wars series both use the same technique. In the first film, Marty used a skateboard as he was chased round Hill Valley’s square by Biff; here, in 2015, it’s a hoverboard and Biff’s grandson. Marty’s asked for a donation to “save the clock tower” again, this time in the future. When Marty wakes up in the alternative 1985, a scene from the first film is being echoed – however, rather than a slim teenager, his mum is now a middle-aged woman with fake tits. Biff ends up crashing his car into a manure truck for a second film running. Of course, in the final act, events are literally repeating themselves…

8. “It’s like we’re in hell or something.”
The clues that 1985 has changed are evident before Marty learns what’s happened. We see ruined cars and lots of graffiti; Hill Valley Square has been taken over by bikers; and there’s a toxic-waste plant. In its middle section, the film is heading into It’s a Wonderful Life territory – ‘what if’ Biff were rich and successful? Like in It’s a Wonderful Life, it’s now a nightmarish world. There’s lots of violent crime. Everywhere’s rundown and tatty. It’s always night. Biff’s built a Vegas-style casino on top of the clock tower, seems to run the whole town, and is married to an unhappy Lorraine. George is dead (a subplot created because the original actor wouldn’t come back). Doc has been committed. And Marty’s been packed off to school in Switzerland.

9. Back to the Fifties.
The original script set the final third in the 1960s. Lorraine would have been a flower-power girl, George a peacenik. But then the writers made the inspired decision to go back to 1955. It’s a time-travel film, they argued, so we can do anything – including revisiting the events of the first movie. We therefore get the intoxicating, imaginative situation of having two Martys and two Docs running around Hill Valley. For 38 glorious minutes of cinema, the film stitches new scenes in and around footage shot in 1984 (as well as restaging some moments). There’s a joyful exuberance for this kind of tomfoolery – the Doc meets himself, we go back to the Enchantment Under The Sea dance, and we see classic moments from new points of view. It’s heady storytelling that would only work on film or television.

10. “Is your name Marty McFly?”
As two sequels were made back-to-back, we get a monster of a cliffhanger at the end of Part II. The plot concluded and the real 1985 put back on track, the DeLorean is struck by lightening. It vanishes in mid-air, stranding a bemused Marty in the 1950s. Then, out of the rain, comes a man with a letter. His company have had it in their possession for 70 years, with specific instructions to deliver it to Marty as this precise moment. The letter is from the Doc, telling Marty that he’s living in the Wild West. Writing to someone in the future: it’s a sensational concept. Cinema tricks us into accepting that the two times – 1885 and 1955 – are somehow concurrent, that Doc is speaking directly to his friend. (The 2007 Doctor Who episode Blink uses the same letter idea. I have no idea if it’s a coincidence or was deliberately half-inched. But the show has lately become more and more fascinated with Back to the Future-style time-travel trickery. A thought occurs: did Steven Moffat name Clara after Part III’s main guest character?) The movie then ends with an in-film trailer for the third chapter – that was a stunningly exciting move in 1989. But a frustrating one, as the next film was eight months away…

Ten Things I Love About… Back to the Future (1985, Robert Zemeckis)

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Warning: plot spoilers ahead. In fact, I’m assuming you know the film’s basic story.

This is not a review. (Want a review? “Perfect – 10 flux capacitors out of 10”.) Instead, it’s a love letter to one of the most important films in my life. Here’s a list of 10 areas in which I think Back to the Future especially excels.

1. It’s about time.
Unsurprisingly for a movie about time-travel, there’s a recurring theme of clocks and chronology. Time plays a huge role in the story, thematically as well as literally. The characters are often surrounded by reminders of it. The first thing we hear is ticking clocks; the first scene is a slow pan across dozens of timepieces. As the story begins, Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd) is carrying out an experiment and has set all these clocks to the wrong time, meaning Marty (Michael J Fox) is late for school. The time machine, meanwhile, has digital readouts specifying the time and date of each travel. Later, Marty is pestered by a woman wanting a donation for her campaign to save the town’s decrepit clock tower. When Marty reaches the 1950s, that clock is in working order: its deafening clang is a vivid pointer that he is actually in the past. Later, the same bell prevents Doc hearing important information from Marty. The writers’ original idea was for the story’s climax to take place at an out-of-town nuclear plant. What a smart move it was to change that and keep Hill Valley’s town clock central to proceedings. Much more satisfying.

2. A design for life.
Lawrence G Paull’s production design for this movie is just masterful. It does precisely what film design should do: the sets, costumes, props and locations create a fully believable setting, but they also *tell the story* just as cleverly as dialogue or acting. That’s really the key to this film, why it’s such a classic. Its story is explored via every tool in the cinematic workshop. For example, in the opening shot – a 126-second slow track through Doc’s house – we see newspapers hinting at the character’s back story. The camera then tilts down to his modest bed and cluttered belongings; then shows off his Heath Robinson gadgetry, including a device for feeding the dog. Before we ever clap eyes on him, some of Doc’s history, personality and situation are conveyed through visual means. The entire movie is crammed full of this kind of storytelling. Sometimes it’s big and obvious – for example, how bright and gleaming the 1950s are compared to the 1980s – but often it’s subtle. Doc’s house in the 1980s is a rundown shed; in the 1950s, that shed is just a workshop next to his enormous mansion. Without it being said, we infer that he’s on his uppers in later life.

3. Hiding in plain sight.
Again and again, the film plonks down huge clues and jokes and bits of information right in front of you, and dares you to spot the significance. Some examples… One of the clocks in the opening scene has a miniature Harold Lloyd hanging from its face… a situation Doc will later find himself in. We’re shown a seemingly random TV news report about some missing plutonium… which we soon learn the Doc has stolen. A poster in the town centre is asking people to re-elect the mayor… a man we’ll meet in 1955, when Marty gives him the idea to go into politics. Marty is handed a flyer about the clock tower’s history, which we think is important because his girlfriend has written her phone number on the back of it… but it’s actually the printed side that’ll prove vital. We see some boys in 1955 using proto-skateboards… one of which Marty later nabs for a getaway. All these things make repeat viewings an absolute blast. (If anyone mentions Twin Pines Mall, we all have to take a sip of our drink.)

4. “Marty!”
What a fantastic lead character Marty McFly is. He’s the audience’s point of view, and is in virtually every scene. He has energy, charm and wit. He wears sunglasses, a denim jacket and a body-warmer. He uses a skateboard and hangs Walkman headphones round his neck. He gives off an air of Ferris Bueller-like confidence, yet admits to being scared of rejection. And he has a cute girlfriend (who’ll get even cuter after a recast in the sequels). It’s amazing we don’t hate him – but we don’t. That’s down to Michael J Fox, who plays the role with fantastic comic energy. Equally important is the fact his performance has total sincerity. We believe in the situations because he does. It would have been so easy to play it detached or with a knowing irony, kind of like Bill Murray in Ghostbusters. Maybe that’s what Eric Stoltz, who was originally cast in the role, was doing before he was fired.

5. “Well, looky what we have here.”
There are so many fantastic jokes in the background of scenes or details tossed off without comment, and they’re often bits of comedy. It took me many viewings to appreciate the gag of Marty methodically fine-tuning a humungous amplifier… only to then use a laughably *tiny* guitar. Later, when Marty reaches 1955, a Ronald Reagan movie is playing at the local cinema. It’s a joke that works on two levels. Not only was Reagan US President at the time of the film’s release, but the reminder that he used to be actor sets us up for a gag from an incredulous Doc Brown. Another great example is how Marty and his dad do the exact same hand gesture when unknowingly sitting next to each other in a cafe.

6. “Don’t need no credit card to ride this train!”
There’s loads of music in this film (well, it was the 1980s). Huey Lewis and the News get two tracks – The Power of Love and Back in Time. The latter’s lyrics relate directly to the story, though I didn’t spot that for a stupidly long time. In a bit of postmodern humour, when Marty auditions for a battle-of-the-bands competition, he and his pals play The Power of Love and Huey Lewis cameos as the judge who doesn’t like it. From the present, there are songs by Lindsey Buckingham, Eric Clapton and Van Halen on the soundtrack; in the past, period tracks such as The Four Aces’ Mr Sandman and Etta James’s The Wallflower (Dance With Me Henry) set the scene. Meanwhile, Alan Silvestri’s incidental music is just magic. Big and dramatic, it makes what is a reasonably small-scale movie feel like fucking Die Hard.

7. “I’m gonna clean up this town!”
Has there ever been a better film set than Hill Valley? For the production, an entire town square was built from scratch – and we see it in two different states. In 1985, it’s grimy and rundown, there’s graffiti, and it has a porno cinema. In 1955, it’s clean and verdant and full of life. (The name of the town is an oxymoron, by the way – it took me a long time to twig that.) You could watch this film and solely concentrate on how the shop fronts and other details change between decades. One great example is how the central square is a car park in 1985 yet in 1955 has a war memorial. Presumably it got bulldozed at some point.

8. “I’m writing this down – this is good stuff.”
The dialogue pulls off an astonishing trick. Pretty much every line is doing three things all at once: it’s moving the plot forward, it’s speaking to character, and it’s entertaining us with style. We’re constantly – and I mean constantly – being given vital story information, yet it never feels like dull exposition because it’s smuggled in under the cover of characterisation or comedy (or often both). Check out the early 1985 scene between Marty and his family, where Lorraine (Lea Thompson) talks about meeting George (Crispin Glover). The *entire* conversation is information we need to know for what’s going to happen in the story. It’s pure plot primer. Yet the scene is alive and fresh and funny and charismatic. It doesn’t feel like an info-dump. It feels like people talking. (As a scene that’s an exposition lecture and you just don’t notice, the only comparable example I can think of is the newsreel at the start of Citizen Kane.)

9. The right direction.
Robert Zemeckis does a quietly magnificent job directing this film. Every moment is paced to perfection and the flow from scene to scene is seamless. The film is fit to bursting with energy, while the camerawork – the movement, the framing, the mise-en-scene – is superb.

10. “Don’t be so gullible, McFly!”
Biff Tannen is one of cinema’s great bad guys, superbly played by Thomas F Wilson, who has to give us three versions of the same man. We see him in the 1980s, where he’s overweight, domineering and slovenly; in the 1950s, where he’s the arrogant school bully with a gang of hangers-on; and then back in the 80s, where he’s a subservient car-cleaner. Wilson pulls off all incarnations brilliantly. Biff is not a subtle character. He has no hidden depths. Yet the actor makes him so watchable. He also has a gag – “Why don’t you make like a tree and get out of here?” – that won’t get its punchline until the sequel.

11. (Did you seriously think I could limit this to just 10 things?!) By George!
Marty’s nerdy dad is the real heart of the story. In some ways, it’s *his* story: he’s the protagonist who’s trying to achieve something. (Marty is actually a complication.) When we get to the 1950s, George is sat at a café – but neither Marty nor us notice him at first. It’s then quite a moment when the realisation sinks in. Later, it’s a totally believable moment when George punches Biff and wins Lorraine’s heart, thanks in big part to Crispin Glover. The actor was clearly a bit of a fruit-loop back in the day, but he’s terrific in this film. (And, I learnt recently, is the son of Bruce Glover, who played assassin Mr Wint in Diamonds Are Forever.)

12. We are family.
Marty’s siblings aren’t in the film much – just one scene in each version of 1985. But they’re fab. Brother Dave is played by Marc McClure, fresh from four movies as Jimmy Olsen. Sister Linda is played by Wendie Jo Sperber.

13. “It’s written all over your underwear!”
Marty’s mum, Lorraine, is an old soak in 1985. She’s chavvy, a bit overweight and very world-weary. She condemns modern behaviour such as sitting in parked cars with boys, then bores her family with a well-worn story about she met her husband. But when we meet her in 1955 at the age of 17, she’s a right hottie. The young Lorraine is sweet and adorable, but also feisty and a bit of a secret rebel. Lea Thompson is wonderful at playing the two versions of the character (as well as a happy and trim 47-year-old at the end of the film). Despite young Lorraine’s lust for Marty, she doesn’t dismiss nervous George when he makes a play for her, which helps sell their eventual union. She also does all the things her grown-up self condemns: park with a boy, smoke, drink and flirt.

14. “Great Scott!”
We first see Dr Emmett L Brown driving his time machine out from a van, down the ramp surrounded by smoke. It’s a theatrical entrance for both the car and the Doc – though how he got into the motor when it was inside such a narrow van is another issue. He’s the epitome of the wild-haired, wild-eyed mad scientist, but has a huge likeability. (He’s one of the great Doctor Whos we never got.) It’s never revealed how Doc and Marty met or became such good friends, because we don’t especially need to know – it’s still a massive moment when the Doc is seemingly murdered at the end of the first act. In 1955, the younger version is just as bonkers. When Marty tracks him down, the 50s Doc is conducting a mind-reading experiment, then later builds a scale model of Hill Valley so he can demonstrate to Marty – and us – how the film’s climax will work. (Soon after this show-and-tell, he meets Lorraine: the only time in the entire trilogy that the two characters interact.) When Marty gets back to 1985, the Doc evades death by changing history. “What the hell?” he quips. He then features in a cliffhanger ending when he collects Marty and Jennifer to take them 30 years into the future (ie, to now).

15. “You built a time machine… out of a DeLorean?!”
A sports-car shape with a harsh, metallic finish and gull-wing doors? Well, it just looks cool, doesn’t it? Making the time machine a car – rather than a stationary capsule – was a masterstroke, giving movement and dynamism to the act of time-travel. (Surely HG Wells would have made this improvement if he’d done just one more draft. Or, you know, been writing after the invention of the car.) After each time-travel, the vehicle is icy cold and covered in mist. That idea got dropped for the sequels!

16. “Do you really think I oughta swear?”
Marty exclaims, “Holy shit!” a few times. When Biff attacks Lorraine, his intentions are shockingly obvious. And the entire emotional storyline is predicated on a mother falling romantically for her son. (Disney turned down the chance to make the film because of its Oedipal overtones.) For a ‘family film’, Back to the Future has an edge. And that makes it more interesting.

17. “Looks like an airplane… without wings!”
When Marty arrives in 1955, his silver car and yellow radiation suit trick a family of farmers into thinking he’s an alien crashed on earth. And Marty later uses the suit (and a Sony Walkman) to con George into believing ‘Darth Vader from the planet Vulcan’ has come to visit him. This old-school sci-fi paranoia is just one thread in the wonderful 1950s-ness of the film’s middle chunk. Nostalgia for that decade is seen a lot in American pop culture from the 1970s and 80s: Grease, Happy Days, American Graffiti, Stand By Me… But it’s especially apt in this movie. It’s the story of a teenager meeting his parents when they were teenagers – and the 1950s saw the birth of teenage culture.

18. “You know, Marty, you look so familiar. Do I know your mother?”
In 1955, Marty meets his mum’s family – Lorraine’s pregnant mother, her TV-fixing dad, and her siblings (one of whom is Kevin Arnold’s brother from The Wonder Years). They get one scene and very nearly steal the film. There’s the joke about baby Joey enjoying being behind bars, Marty being uncomfortable with Lorraine’s flirting, Marty recognising the Jackie Gleason show on TV because he’s already seen it, and the dad not knowing who John F Kennedy is.

19. New things.
I’ve seen this film dozens of times, yet I always spot something new every time I watch it. The two things that dropped into my mind this time are both pretty obvious, yet I’ve never considered them in 30 years. At the start of the film, Marty and his band audition for a panel of judges… on the *same stage* that Marty will play Johnny B. Goode at the end of the film. Never made that connection before. Also, the movie establishes that Twin Pine Malls is around two miles from the centre of Hill Valley. Yet at the film’s climax, Marty runs that distance in *under nine minutes*. No wonder he’s out of breath.

20. “Let’s do something that really cooks!”
I don’t have children, but I’m certain Sophie’s choice would be preferable to selecting just one favourite moment of Back to the Future. But for its sheer joyfulness, why don’t we focus on Marty’s stint as replacement guitarist with dance band Marvin Berry and the Starlighters? It’s maybe not the most vital scene in terms of the plot, though Marty’s erratic guitar playing is a neat illustration of the timeline being under threat. But it’s so, so fun. Once George and Lorraine have hooked up – to the swell of the band playing Earth Angel – the camera cranes up and back, signifying that the storyline is concluded. Then Marty is asked to play another song. He tells the band, “It’s a blues riff in B; watch me for the changes and try to keep up, okay?” then rips into Johnny B. Goode, wowing the crowd with a burst of nascent rock-n-roll. They’ve never heard the song before; no one has. Marty is seemingly inventing a genre on the spot. Lead singer Marvin Berry is so impressed that he telephones his cousin so he can hear the song. “Chuck? Chuck? It’s your cousin, Marvin Berry. You know that new sound you looking for? Well, listen to this!” Hashtag bootstrap paradox. Marty then goes off-piste, throwing in impressions of Jimi Hendrix and Pete Townsend, which just bemuses the entire room. “I guess you guy aren’t ready for that yet,” he says after finishing. “But your kids are gonna love it.”

21. Summing up?
This post is three thousand words and I’ve barely got started. The film has surgical attention to detail, but never loses sight of the big picture. It’s played at a lick, but never feels rushed. It’s funny, poignant, clever, exciting and witty. It has *huge* heart, but is never soppy. There’s dramatic irony, but it’s never smug. The camerawork and editing are aimed precisely at where the story is, never showing off. Plot, character, action and comedy are all intertwined all of the time – it’s the greatest ever example of this. I don’t remember the first time I saw Back to the Future. It was on a rental video, and must have been in around 1986. (I’ve since seen it on a big screen three times: at an independent cinema in 2000 and twice during a re-release in 2010.) In my mind, it’s just always been there, always been a part of my life. Always been a friend.

Fawlty Towers: Basil the Rat (BBC2, 25 October 1979, Bob Spiers)

major_gowan_rat_basil

These reviews reveal plot twists.

A health inspector has given the hotel 24 hours to sort out its appalling hygiene problems. However, during the clean-up, Basil learns that Manuel has been keeping a pet rat, which then gets loose…

Hotel sign: FARTY TOWELS

STAFF:

* Sybil is in a grumpy mood because Basil initially said he’d go out with their friends, but now claims he has to do the accounts. Once the local health inspector, Mr Carnegie, gives the hotel a critical appraisal, Sybil sets to work cleaning the kitchen and ordering Basil get some dead birds out of the water tank. The next day, the clean-up seems to be going well – even though the hotel cat keeps popping into the kitchen. They must do a good job: Mr Carnegie is satisfied when he sees the results.

* Basil is shocked to find a man riffling through the hotel’s fridge. “Should I get you the wine list?” he deadpans. It turns out to be Mr Carnegie – not a scavenger gourmet, as Basil quips, but an official from the Public Health Department. He gives them 24 hours to get the kitchens into a proper shape. Basil is then shocked to learn that Manuel has a rat in his room as a pet – so insists he gets rid of it pronto. However, the next day, when the Major announces he’s seen a rat in the hotel bar, Basil twigs that the animal is still on the premises. Not only that, it’s loose. And the health inspector is about to return. So the staff conduct a search. Basil also puts some rat poison on a bit of veal meat and leaves it on the kitchen floor. But he’s later aghast when he realises it’s been picked up and cooked – now no one knows which one is poisoned. This causes a big problem when Mr Carnegie wants veal for his lunch. They decide to give him a slice that the cat has nibbled on – at least that means it’s not poisoned. However, just as Mr C is tucking in, Basil sees the cat retching! So he has to confiscate the inspector’s plate. When the cat is then okay, Basil has to confiscate the replacement plate too. Then he finds the rat – but it’s in the handbag of a guest who’s leaving the hotel. After Polly invents a bomb scare, Basil searches the bag. He finds the rat, but it bites him and races back into the dining room. At the episode’s conclusion, Basil collapses through stress.

* Polly has been helping Mr Carnegie inspect the kitchens. She later has to shoo away the hotel’s cat. She then comes to Manuel’s aid and says she has a friend who can look after in his pet rat. (In reality they simply hide the rodent in a shed round the back of the hotel.) The next day, Pol tries selling a picture of hers to a guest who’d said he liked it. She’s offering it for £5, saying it’s for her sister’s eye operation, but he says no. “You bastard!” she shouts. When the rat goes missing, Polly has to search the hotel without the Fawltys finding out – but Basil rumbles her. Polly later knocks some veal steaks on the floor, which Terry quickly picks up – along with the rat-poison-covered slice that Basil laid down earlier.

* Terry does a scarpering act when he spots the health inspector, but returns once Mr C has left. He’s not bothered by the lengthy list of problems – “All kitchen are filthy,” he claims. During the mix-up over the poisoned veal, he at first thinks clearly and reasons that the cat’s slice must be edible. However, a few minutes later, he seems unconcerned about dishing up a new slice *after* they’ve learnt that the cat was simply coughing up fur-balls.

* Manuel is upstairs practising his guitar when Basil bursts in. He wants Manuel to go up to the roof and get the pigeons out of the water tank. However, Basil then spots that Manuel has a pet in a cage. It’s a rat, though Manuel has naively believed the pet shop owner’s claim that it’s a Siberian hamster. When Basil wants it gone, Manuel is upset – but then Polly says she has a plan. They lie to Basil and hide the animal in an outhouse. Manuel then puts on a black armband and acts desolate – “It’s so empty without him!” – until Polly tells him he’s overegging his pudding. He then borrows a bit of fillet veal for the rat – who he’s called Basil. Panic ensues, though, when the rat goes missing (Manuel unwisely let him out of the cage so he could “exercise in shed”). When the rat has been found safe and sound, Manuel puts it in a biscuit tin for safekeeping.

NOTABLE GUESTS:

* Miss Tibbs and Miss Gatsby are aghast when they hear that Basil is taking Manuel’s ‘hamster’ away from him. But they then see it and shriek.

* A male guest is checking out when Polly tries to sell him a painting.

* The Major is unimpressed when he sees the papers. “Strike, strike, strike!” he laments. “Why do we bother, Fawlty?” Basil replies to himself: “Didn’t know you did, Major.” The Major then goes for a bit of quiet time in the empty bar – and is shocked to find a rat sitting on one of the tables. So he goes off to fetch his shotgun! Basil assumes that the Major is chasing Germans – then the penny drops. He tells the Major to simply keep watch, but the Major later shoots at the rodent. To stop the Major blabbing to the health inspector, Basil knees him in the balls.

* Mrs Taylor (Melody Lang) has ordered veal for lunch. Sadly for her, one steak has poison on it so Basil retrieves the food from their table. His excuse? “This is veal substitute. We’re giving it a try and it’s a bit of a disappointment, I’m afraid.” When Mrs T says she’s never heard of veal substitute, Polly claims it’s a Japanese concoction made of soybeans and essence of cow.

* Ronald and Quentina (David Neville and Sabina Franklyn) are a posho couple staying at the hotel. Manuel, however, is not paying attention when taking their lunch order because he’s seen the rat at their feet. Basil is then called in and is likewise distracted. So Polly is asked to take the order, but she spots the rat in Quentina’s handbag. Annoyed by the poor service, the couple decide to leave – so Basil has to give chase and find a way of rooting through the bag.

OTHERS:

* Mr Carnegie (John Quarmby) is a local health inspector who’s come to the do the six-monthly check-up. (It’s still a surprise to both Sybil and Basil.) He’s far from impressed and has a long list of things that need dealing with – and he hasn’t even looked upstairs yet. He returns the next day to carry on the inspection, starting upstairs with the water tank. After agreeing that all is now well, Mr Carnegie wants lunch at the hotel: he’s spotted some veal on offer. Basil tries to put him off – because one slice of it is poisoned – and claims it’s an inferior Norwegian veal. Mr C wants his veal, though. For afters, he asks for cheese and biscuits, but is inadvertently presented with a tin containing a rat.

A SELECTION OF THE BEST GAGS:

* Sybil complains that the only pleasure she gets in life is when she gets away with some of her friends. “Well, you should get away more often, dear,” says Basil.

* Sybil says her mother reckons the Fawltys got together because of black magic. “Well, she’d know, wouldn’t she?” says Basil. “Her and that cat.”

* Mr Carnegie has a damning indictment of the hotel: “These premises do not come up to the standard required by this authority. Unless appropriate steps are taken instantly, I shall have no alternative but to prosecute or recommend closure to the appropriate committee of the council. Specifically: lack of proper cleaning routines; dirty and greasy filters; greasy and encrusted deep-fat fryer; dirty, cracked and stained food-preparation surfaces; dirty, cracked and missing wall and floor tiles; dirty, marked and stained utensils; dirty and greasy interior surfaces of the ventilator hoods. Inadequate temperature control and storage of dangerous foodstuffs; storage of cooked and raw meat in same trays; storage of raw meat above confectionery, with consequent dripping of meat juices onto cream products; refrigerator seals loose and cracked; ice box undefrosted; and refrigerator overstocked. Food-handling routines suspect; evidence of smoking in food preparation area; dirty and grubby food handling overalls; lack of wash hand basin, which you gave us a verbal assurance you’d have installed on our last visit six months ago; and two dead pigeons in the water tank.” Basil, after a gloriously timed pause, says: “Otherwise okay?”

* Basil and Manuel’s cross-purposes conversation about the water tank. Basil says some pigeons are in it, but Manuel thinks he means pigs. “Not pigs!” cries Basil. “Pigeons! Pigeon! Pigeon! Like your English.”

* “You have rats in Spain, don’t you? Or did Franco have them all shot?”

* Sybil nagging Basil about the rat, telling him some self-evident truths. He responds with sarcasm: “Can we get you on Mastermind, Sybil? ‘Next contestant: Sybil Fawlty from Torquay. Special subject: the bleeding obvious.’” He then announces he’ll let the rat loose in the countryside, but Sybil fears for its safety. “Look,” he says, “he’s not going to get mugged by a gang of field mice, is he?” Basil then facetiously suggests he’ll put an ad in the local paper: “Wanted: kind home for enormous, savage rodent. [Under his breath] Answers to the name of Sybil.”

* “Spleep?”

* The beautiful visual comedy of Basil walking through the lobby and not noticing the Major carrying a gun.

* Basil’s high-pitched, Mickey Mouse-like impression of Polly.

* The Major’s gun goes off. “My God!” says Mr Carnegie. “What was that?” Basil’s explanation? “Bloody television exploding again.”

* Manuel goes berserk when he thinks Terry has cooked his pet rat so runs off in a panic, chased by Polly. Sybil, to the bemused Mr Carnegie: “He’s from Barcelona…”

* “Hooray! The cat lives!”

* Ronald thinks Manuel is trying to look at his girlfriend’s legs. When he tells Basil this, Basil says, “May I?” and has a gander himself (as a way of searching for the rat).

* “You know something? You’re getting my gander up, you grotty little man. You’re asking for a bunch of fives!”

* The mechanical rat’s head popping out of the biscuit tin. God bless the BBC in the 1970s.

Outside? The episode begins with a brief scene of Sybil and Basil arriving at the hotel. We also get an arch shot of Polly and Manuel walking away from camera while carrying the rat’s cage between them. Manuel later takes some food into the shed round the back, claps his hands in glee, and calls out, “Basil!” Finally, Basil (the man) has a breather at the back door, where he’s shocked to see the cat retching.

Dated: Polly calls Manuel a “Dago dodo”.

Henry Kissinger: When the kitchen is declared unfit, nonchalant Terry asks Basil if he’s read about the time George Orwell (aka Eric Blair, 1903-1950) spent working at Maxim’s restaurant in Paris. “No,” replies Basil. “Do you have a copy? I’ll read it out in court.” Basil later sarcastically mentions philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951) and Spanish fascist dictator Francisco Franco (1892-1975). The Major is cheered to read in the newspaper that cricketer Geoffrey Boycott (born 1940) has made a century. Later, Basil says to him, “Say goodnight to the folks, Gracie…” – a reference to American comedian George Burns (1896-1996) and his catchphrase about wife and comic partner Gracie Allen (1895-1964).

Review: A glorious end to television’s finest sitcom. It builds and builds to a superb finale with regular, hilarious laughs along the way. And, like in every episode, the performances are just terrific: well rehearsed, timed to perfection, but still ‘alive’ and fresh.

Ten starling inspectors out of 10

Fawlty Towers: The Anniversary (BBC2, 26 March 1979, Bob Spiers)

basil_anniversary_fawlty_towers

These reviews reveal plot twists.

Basil arranges a surprise party for his wife – but she gets the wrong end of the stick and flounces off…

Hotel sign: FLOWERY TWATS. Has there *ever* been a more satisfying anagram in the history of anagrams?

STAFF:

* Polly wants to borrow £100 from the Fawltys so she can buy a car. Sybil’s said it’s okay, but Basil’s dragging his feet. When Polly quietly tells Basil that Sybil’s upset over him forgetting their anniversary, he reveals that he’s only pretending. He’s actually planned a surprise do with their friends. But Sybil strops off upset before the pals arrive, so to avoid embarrassment Basil needs an explanation – Polly suggests that he tells them she’s ill in bed, then helps embellish the cover story. However, when Basil wants to take the friends upstairs to say hello, he ropes Polly in to impersonate Sybil! Pol says she’ll do it for £100. She puts on Sybil’s wig and sunglasses, pads out her cheeks with cotton wool, and gets into bed. The ruse is going well until Basil leaves the room. Then one of the friends wants a closer look… so Polly hits her!

* Terry is angry when he learns that Manuel is cooking the Fawltys’ anniversary meal. He’s a trained chef and can do paella, okay? A mostly off-screen feud with Manuel breaks out, which results in a huge brawl in the kitchen.

* Manuel has been out to buy “paintings brushes” for Polly and ingredients for a paella. Basil, thinking Manuel would enjoy it, has asked him to do the meal and Manuel is chuffed with the responsibility. However, chef Terry objects…

* Sybil is in a foul mood because it’s 17 April and Basil has not mentioned their 15th wedding anniversary. When she drops hints about it, he still doesn’t bring up the subject – so she gets her coat and storms out. Twenty minutes later, she returns to collect her golf clubs and – with Basil still seemingly unwilling to be nice – says she’s leaving him. It’s perhaps the only time in the whole show when we see a character genuinely, movingly, upset. However, tragedy soon turns to farce when her friends see her, and Basil has to pretend that Sybil is someone else. To stop her giving the game away, he locks her in a cupboard.

* Basil is acting like he’s forgotten the anniversary because – in a rare example of selflessness – he’s invited a gang of friends round to surprise Sybil. However, he can’t resist winding his wife up, so while she’s clearly upset he affects a jovial mood. After Sybil walks out in a huff and the friends show up, Basil doesn’t want to admit his miscalculation – so claims Sybil is ill upstairs in bed. Her friends naturally want to go and see her, so on-the-spot Basil has to invent a never-ending series of excuses and justifications for his lie. He feigns an old war injury to change the subject; he claims both a doctor and a dentist have had a look at Sybil; and he even tells his pals that Sybil’s condition is serious. However, under their constant questioning and doubting, he snaps and then *insists* that they come up to see her. He convinces Polly to impersonate Mrs Fawlty (by giving her the £100 she needs), but then Sybil herself returns to the hotel. Basil initially gets rid of her by appearing disinterested, but he can’t stop the friends seeing her – so he barefacedly claims it’s not his wife standing in front of them.

NOTABLE GUESTS:

* Miss Tibbs and Miss Gatsby appear very briefly.

* The Major is on his way out to play some golf (is he going to the same course as Sybil?) but stops to chat to Basil’s friends while they’re waiting on the upper-floor landing.

OTHERS:

* Roger and Alice (Ken Campbell and Una Stubbs) are the first of the friends to arrive – just as Basil is beating the ground in frustration because Sybil’s run off. Rog suspects Syb’s absence is because she’s had a tiff with Basil and refused to attend the party. He’s generally a shit-stirrer and enjoys picking holes in Basil’s story.

* Virginia and Arthur (Pat Keen and Robert Arnold) show up next. She’s brought a homemade cake, but causes Basil big problems when she reminds him that she’s a nurse. Polly later hits Virginia rather than let her get too close.

* Reg and Kitty (Roger Hume and Denyse Alexander) are not surprised that Sybil’s gone AWOL from the party. They’ve just seen her driving round town. Basil quickly concocts a story about a northern woman who’s in the local area and looks similar to Sybil. During their dimly lit encounter with Polly-as-Sybil, Reg busts his ankle, Kitty her arm.

* Audrey (Christine Shaw) is Sybil’s friend – she’s been mentioned a few times during the series but this is our only sighting of her. She’s consoling an upset Sybil.

A SELECTION OF THE BEST GAGS:

* Sybil didn’t think Basil would forget their anniversary. “Not after what happened when he forgot last year…”

* Polly asks Basil if she can borrow £100. Sybil’s already said it’s okay. Basil: “I don’t think she quite understands the cash-flow situation viz-à-viz the frozen assets.”

* Basil doesn’t know what to tell the imminently arriving friends about Sybil. Manuel has a suggestion: “It is surprise party. She no here. That is surprise.”

* Roger’s laboured gag about “Syb ill”. Manuel’s uninvited riposte – “Man-well!” – is wittier.

* Polly mishears Basil’s whispered explanation and thinks he’s said that Sybil’s thighs are inflamed. (He actually said, “Eyes.”) So she relays that information to Virginia, who then questions Basil: “Polly says her legs are puffed up!” Confused, Basil takes a look at *Polly’s* legs: “Are they?”

* Basil’s quick “Oh, no!” when Virginia announces she’s a nurse so will go and look in on Sybil.

* Basil’s flustered stammer when faced with the news that Reg and Kitty have seen Sybil on the high street.

* “Look, it’s perfectly Sybil. Simple’s not well. She’s lost her throat and her voice hurts.”

* Basil physically forcing Polly up the stairs, across the landing and into his room.

* “I’ll ruin you! You’ll never waitress in Torquay again!” (This line comes during a scene of mighty comic energy between Basil and Polly: the show’s two writers wowing us with their timing.)

* During the madness, Basil takes a moment to down a swig of wine from the bottle. However, Manuel then taps him on the arm and the wine goes all over Basil’s head.

* Basil’s withering “You read a lot of Oscar Wilde, do you, Rog?”

* Basil glancing out of his bedroom window and spotting Sybil driving up to the hotel. He screams.

* Basil walking a disorientated Sybil through the kitchen, over a brawling Terry and Manuel, and into a cupboard.

* “Piece of cake. Now comes the tricky bit.”

Outside? Two bits of location filming this week, both in the hotel’s car park. We see Sybil drive off, Basil pound the tarmac in frustration, and Roger and Alice arrive. Then later there’s a brief scene of Sybil crying in her car with Audrey.

Dated: The party has a general vibe of a 1970s soiree. Men smoking pipes; people ordering G&Ts and eating bar snacks.

Henry Kissinger: Polly is not impressed with Basil’s idea that she should impersonate Sybil, so says, “If you want to be in a Marx Brothers film that’s your problem.” She’s alluding, of course, to Chico (1887-1961), Harpo (1888-1964), Groucho (1890-1977), Gummo (1892-1977) and Zeppo (1901-1979). Also, Oscar Wilde gets another mention.

Review: The first episode of Fawlty Towers broadcast after my birth is coincidentally my favourite. It’s a beautiful example of snowball storytelling: to avoid some minor embarrassment, Basil makes a snap decision to tell a small lie… and then the situation escalates and worsens and gets more extreme during 25 minutes of priceless comedy. Seeing Basil have to deflect the constant critiquing of his lie, and continually improvise new elements of it, is a joy. It’s also the most streamlined episode: there’s only one real plot, and we never see any one-off guests. John Cleese dominates proceedings and gives a colossal performance. And the fact this is the show’s second real-time episode only adds to the unstoppable momentum.

Ten charts on the wall, ropes, wheel in the corner… that sort of thing, out of 10

Hotel Transylvania (2012, Genndy Tartakovsky)

HotelT

An occasional series where I write about works inspired by Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula…

These reviews reveal plot twists.

Setting: Transylvania. After a prologue set in 1895, we move to the modern day.

Faithful to the novel? Count Dracula (voiced by Adam Sandler) is a widower who lives with his daughter, Mavis (Selena Gomez). He decided to convert his castle into a hotel for fellow monsters, and guests include Frankenstein’s monster, the Invisible Man, skeletons, ghosts and giant spiders. The monsters are avoiding contact with humans and have given up trying to scare them: they just want to be left alone. Dracula has to avoid sunlight and can turn into a bat. He doesn’t drink human blood, though, because it’s fattening. It’s Mavis’s 118th birthday – though she still looks like a teenager because, you know, vampire. She wants to leave the castle and, for the first time, explore the outside world. Dracula lets her go, but arranges for an angry mob to scare her back home because he doesn’t want to lose her. Then a human backpacker called Johnny (Andy Samberg) stumbles across the hotel – he wasn’t put off by the undead-riddled cemetery and spooky woods that Dracula has created as a barrier. Dracula initially tries to hide the truth, but Johnny soon learns what’s going on. He also meets and falls for Mavis.

Best performance: Is that Steve Buscemi playing Wayne the werewolf?! Yes, it is. So that’s what happened to him.

Best bit: The fake townspeople – actually zombies in human masks.

Review: A madcap comedy animation. (There are even fart gags.) There are lots of jokes crammed into every scene. It loses momentum once the set-up’s finished, but is generally amusing and likeable.

Six shrunken heads out of 10

Fawlty Towers: The Kipper and the Corpse (BBC2, 12 March 1979, Bob Spiers)

mr_leeman

These reviews reveal plot twists.

When a guest dies during the night, Basil fears they’ve poisoned him…

Hotel sign: FATTY OWLS

STAFF:

* Basil doesn’t want to deal with dog-obsessed guest Mrs Chase, yet is happy to pander to the more respectable Dr Price. When another guest, Mr Leeman, asks for breakfast in bed, Basil can’t help being sarcastic: “Is it your legs? I mean, most of our guests manage to struggle down in the morning.” The next day, when he takes Mr Leeman his kippers, Basil doesn’t spot that the man is dead and simply witters on about car strikes. Then Polly visits the room too and returns with the news that Mr L has passed on; he’s no more; he has ceased to be; he’s expired and gone to meet his maker; he’s a stiff; bereft of life, he rests in peace; he’s pushing up the daisies; his metabolic processes are now history; he’s off the twig; he’s kicked the bucket; he’s shuffled off his mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin’ choir invisible. He is an ex-guest. Basil immediately assumes he was killed by the kippers – which should have been eaten by the 6th. So he hides the fish, even though the man’s clearly been dead for hours. After a doctor’s had a look, Basil decides to move the body. It proves tricky to do it discreetly with so many people about: Miss Tibbs sees the corpse (twice) and faints (twice), so Basil stuffs it in a laundry basket. But then Mr Leeman’s friends arrive to collect him for a meeting and Basil assumes they’re undertakers…

* Manuel has to deal with Mrs Chase’s numerous fussy demands about her dog. It bites both him and Polly, so they decide to put Tabasco sauce and pepper on its food. Manuel is then roped into helping Basil move the corpse – from room to room to office to kitchen to basket to lobby to room to room and eventually back to the lobby, where an exhausted Manuel goes on strike.

* Sybil is concerned when Mr Leeman doesn’t look well. The following day, she’s busy preparing for the laundrymen arriving. After Mr L is found dead, Sybil writes out his bill and puts it in his wallet: “They’re bound to look there. Better not charge him for breakfast.”

* Polly serves guest Dr Price at breakfast, and colludes with Manuel to play a prank on Mrs Chase. She then takes some milk up to Mr Leeman’s room and finds him dead.

* Terry’s doing the breakfasts. He’s not worried about using some kippers that are past their sell-by date.

NOTABLE GUESTS:

* Mrs Chase (Mavis Pugh) is a guest who’s paid extra to have her small dog stay at the hotel with her – it’s allowed to sit in the bar and eat in the dining room. After the dog falls ill, she’s so preoccupied that she doesn’t spot a corpse in plain sight.

* The Major has a drink with Mrs Chase. When he sees the body the next day, he doesn’t immediately realise the guy is dead, then assumes he must have been shot.

* Dr Price (Geoffrey Palmer) is staying at the hotel and is a big fan of sausages. He’d like some for a late-night snack, but Sybil tells him chef would have locked them away. So the next morning, he orders just sausages for breakfast. Sadly, they get covered in sugar, then forgotten about, then burnt – so he simply cooks his own. Sybil asks him to help when Mr Leeman is found dead; Price says he’ll call the coroner.

* A short, middle-aged, balding man is staying at the hotel with a tall, younger, well-built redhead. Sybil’s guessed why. (He stays with a different woman each time.)

* Mr Leeman (Derek Royle) doesn’t feel well when his colleagues drop him off at Fawlty Towers, so he goes straight to bed but conks out before morning. He stays in room eight, which was called room 22 when Mrs Richards had it three episodes ago.

* Miss Gatsby narrowly misses overhearing Polly calling for an undertaker. Her friend Miss Tibbs is not so lucky: she sees the corpse itself and goes into a screaming panic. Polly has to slap her, which knocks Miss T unconscious. So Basil and Pol hide her in a wardrobe. When awake, she sees the body again and faints all of her own accord.

* Mr and Mrs White (Richard Davies and Elizabeth Benson – the latter played a different guest in Gourmet Night) are a Welsh couple whose room is used by Basil to hide the corpse and an unconscious Miss Tibbs. However, the Whites return and want to get into their room…

* Mr Ingrams (Charles McKeown) checks in during the cadaver-moving chaos. Later Basil and Manuel walk into his room, thinking it’ll be empty. In fact, they find Ingram blowing up a sex doll.

OTHERS:

* Mr Leeman’s colleagues (Pamela Buchner, Raymond Mason and Robert McBain).

A SELECTION OF THE BEST GAGS:

* The Major asks Mrs Chase about her dog. “He’s a little Shih Tzu!” she says. “Is he really?” replies the Major. “Oh, dear, dear, dear – what breed is it?”

* Basil suggests it would be safer if the delicate dog were kept inside an airtight container. The Major points out it wouldn’t be able to breathe. “It could try, Major. It could try.”

* Basil is affronted when Mr Leeman doesn’t say good night. “He’s not feeling very well,” explains Sybil. Basil: “Only had to say good night, dear. It’s not the Gettysburg Address, is it?”

* Sybil asks Mr Leeman numerous questions about his breakfast order. Basil follows them up with a facetious: “Rosewood, mahogany, teak? What would you like your breakfast tray made out of?”

* Manuel’s misunderstanding with Mrs Chase. “Don’t you have dogs in Calcutta?” she snaps.

* Basil’s one-sided conversation with a clearly dead Mr Leeman.

* Basil’s rapturous happiness when he realises they *didn’t* poison Mr Leeman. Dr Price walks in while Basil is literally jumping for joy.

* Dr Price thinks it’s odd that Basil didn’t realise the man was dead. “I’m just delivering a tray, right?” says a defensive Basil. “If the guest isn’t singing, ‘Oh, what a beautiful morning,’ I don’t immediately think, ‘There’s another one snuffed it in the night. Another name in the Fawlty Towers Book of Remembrance.’ I mean, this is a hotel, not a Burma railway. It does actually say ‘Hotel’ outside. Perhaps I should be more specific. ‘Hotel for people who have a better than 50-per-cent chance of making it through the night.’” Sybil then sidles over and points out he has a kipper sticking out of his jumper.

* Polly slaps a hysterical Miss Tibbs and knocks her out. “Spiffing,” says Basil. “Absolutely spiffing. Two dead, 25 to go.”

* Basil at the bedroom door, making up a story about why the Whites can’t come in. We hear Manuel clearly dropping one of the bodies he’s trying to hide. “Pick that ashtray up, will you, Manuel?” says Basil. “The big one.”

* “Have you locked this?” “Only slightly.”

* “She doesn’t mean any *arm*!”

* Manuel’s impromptu flamenco dancing.

* The notion, voiced by Mr White, that there’s a hotel “up by the prophylactic emporium.”

* When Miss Tibbs faints after seeing the corpse again, Sybil asks why Basil left it in the office. “Well, he wouldn’t fit in the safe and all the drawers were full.”

* Dr Price vs Manuel. “Look, I’m a doctor. I’m a doctor and I want my sausages.” To resolve the disagreement, Basil pokes Manuel in the eye.

* My single favourite moment in all of Fawlty Towers comes when Leeman’s colleagues arrive to collect him for a meeting. Basil assumes they’re the undertakers, so tells them Leeman is in the laundry basket. When it becomes clear who they really are, Basil struggles to talk his way out of the misunderstanding. “Oh, Mr Leeman…” he says, grasping for an explanation. Then Polly comes to the rescue: “We thought you said… ‘the linen’.” Basil is so impressed with her quick thinking that he snaps his fingers, points at her and says, “Brilliant!”

Outside? A moment on the doorstep as the Whites witness Basil and Manuel carrying the corpse and, distracted, crash their car. We also see Basil, Manuel and Polly flagging down a laundry van; then later Basil being loaded into the back of it in a basket.

Dated: The kippers should have been eaten by the 6th!

Henry Kissinger: None. No one. Not one mention of genuine famous person. There isn’t room in this script.

Review: Pretty much perfect.

Ten British Leyland concertos out of 10